Leviticus 4 lays out the ritual of the sin offering, which deals with “unintentional” transgressions – the sin of wandering or being led astray. This is not the high-handed sin of open rebellion and refusal to repent. In this offering, the primary element is the blood, which covers the sin of the people. It’s important to understand the structure of the tabernacle to be able to get a grasp of what is going on.
Think of the tabernacle as having one section stacked on top of another. At the bottom is the forecourt with the laver of cleansing and the altar of ascension. This is the sea and the land, and more specifically a mountain rising up out of the land. This is a miniature “high place” or a mount Sinai on which one goes up to meet with God.
Next is the Holy Place, the firmament area above the earth. This has the lampstand, which is the lights fixed in the firmament. There is also the table of showbread, which is the priestly nation of Israel set in the firmament and acting as mediator between God and the rest of the world. Just before the inner veil – which is the final firmament barrier, woven with smokey blue and purple and scarlet and linen and embroidered with cherubim – you have the altar of incense which sends up the prayers of the saints in the smoke. This goes up and joins with the glory cloud that surrounds God in His throne room, the Holy of Holies. In the Holy of Holies, there is the ark of the covenant, which is God’s footstool, and the cherubim above, which are His throne.
The sin offering of Leviticus 4 is broken into different sections depending on who is making the offering. If it is the High Priest or the entire congregation, the sin has defiled everything on earth, up to the very threshold of heaven. The High Priest takes the blood of a bull and sprinkles it before the inner veil at the top of the firmament, then puts it on the horns of the altar of incense in the firmament, and last pours it at the base of the altar of ascension on the land. The sins of a leader or a common person don’t have the same far reaching effects as that of the High Priest. Only the land is defiled, and the blood of a goat is applied to the horns of the altar of ascension and then poured out at the base.
This order from top to bottom is important. Man’s attempts to reach God, as illustrated at the Tower of Babel, are always fruitless. It is God who extends the ladder down from heaven by which we may approach Him. And so here, the door of approach is opened from top to bottom.
This offering only provides a covering for sin; it does not remove it. As the book of Hebrews points out, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” These provided a covering so the fire of God would not consume the people, but it is Christ the High Priest that finally takes away sin with the offering of His own blood. It is Jesus Christ who comes down from God to open the way into the Most Holy Place. He is the door. He is the ladder to heaven. And it is His body and blood that we eat and His word that washes us and removes the stain and guilt of sin. So, let us rejoice and have confidence and persevere in Christ.